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Pharmaceutical Market: An App a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

1 Jun, 2011 By: Jackie Jones Response

As smartphones dominate mobile strategies within DR advertising, mHealth initiatives are set to be the next healthy addition to the pharma market.

Pharmaceutical marketers know that health concerns are — quite literally — close to consumers’ hearts, and the ability to easily manage daily health care routines is pivotal to physicians and patients alike. Mobile apps, or mHealth initiatives, are emerging as the future for pharma, enabling patients to stay active yet responsible, and helping doctors provide care more efficiently.

Patient and physician engagement is on the rise, with 75 percent of doctors using smartphones to view medical apps and 59 percent of pharma companies planning to use mobile to market to consumers in the future.

“The holy grail for pharma marketers is establishing direct interaction with consumers — in this case, patients or physicians. Mobile is the best technology for that because unlike the Web, it’s more filtered and information is more opt-in in nature,” says Chris Iafolla, senior manager of interactive at WCG, a global independent marketing company. “Mobile gives marketers and pharma companies direct portal interaction with patients and physicians who they know already want the information.”

As direct response tactics and ROI accountability become more prevalent across all spectrums of advertising, mobile is quickly becoming a staple in industries like pharmaceuticals.

“The pharma industry is moving toward more specialty products that serve smaller, niche markets with a greater need. Companies within the pharma space are now starting to look for ways to move away from only pushing messages to a mass audience and instead looking for ways to establish a direct, two-way dialogue with consumers,” Iafolla says. “All these things are coming together to make it the right time for mobile to really make an impact on the industry.”

Mobile technology can be used beyond simple, direct marketing for the pharma industry, Iafolla says.

“Mobile’s possibilities in this space are really endless,” he says. “You can think of mobile as a way to provide patients with alerts on recall information, to verify drug legitimacy and as reminders to take medication. There’s a lot of functionality and many benefits across the board to make both consumers’ and companies’ lives easier.”

Pushing the Right Buttons

The old way of pharmaceutical marketing simply doesn't work anymore, and mobile provides new, innovative ways for marketers to create measurable interaction, says Kurt Mueller, chief digital and science officer at Roska Healthcare Advertising.

“We’ve reached an age in mobile where we aren’t just pushing information anymore,” he says. “Those days are gone and instead we are engaging and interacting with users in an ongoing dialogue that provides immediate measurable interaction.”

Industry experts see a plethora of opportunities for pharma companies looking to integrate mobile apps into their marketing strategy. For patients, the best apps will provide prescription reminders, tools to monitor ongoing conditions such as diabetes, real-time news on medication recalls and risks, and even coupon programs using QR codes. Pharma apps could also enable physicians to immediately calculate the right dosage of various drugs and administer medication when it counts, as well as improve the accessibility and communication between drug reps and doctors.

“Five years ago, sales reps might have gone into a doctor’s office and had to leave behind paper information,” Iafolla says. “Now they can pull up detailed information right on their devices and walk doctors through a variety of topics — that type of marketing lends itself better to a tablet-sized device.”

Mobile apps also help remove barriers in patient care, Mueller adds. “We know that 30 percent of patients walk out the door with paper prescriptions without ever filling them. If you enable physicians to E-prescribe from their smartphones, and the prescription is already waiting for the patient at the local pharmacy before the appointment is complete, you eliminate that risk that they never fill the initial prescription,” Mueller says. “How do you work with various stakeholders to get better compliance and get better patient outcomes? It can be done with mobile and with that immediate gratification for patients and physicians, wherever they are.”

The pharma market has already seen a flood of apps providing a variety of functions — a double-edged sword for the industry. There are currently more than 350,000 health apps available to mobile users, but only 20 percent of consumers who download a pharma app use it for more than one day and only 5 percent are still using it after 30 days, according to Mueller.

“What that tells us is that there is a challenge in cutting through the clutter and there are a lot of pharma companies doing mobile and using technology simply for technology’s sake — not the best route to go,” Mueller says. “There’s a lot of noise out there in the mobile world, but usage data are much higher when apps are delivering value, interaction and immediate satisfaction in an ongoing manner.”

Pocket Full of Pharma

More reports are pointing to the widespread adoption of smartphones among medical professionals and a growing reliance on mobile apps for information and education, says Rose Crane, president and CEO of Epocrates Inc., which develops mobile medical reference apps.

“The personalization of smartphones provides new opportunities for the pharma industry to create more tailored campaigns,” Crane says. “For example, Epocrates’ virtual representative services deliver custom messages, education or samples to targeted physicians. With these targeted efficiencies and promotional synergies, pharma has a more cost-effective way to maintain share of voice and achieve brand objectives.”

More than 1.3 million health care professionals, including more than 45 percent of U.S. physicians, currently use Epocrates’ apps and services, which are available across the iPhone, BlackBerry, Android, Palm OS and Windows Mobile platforms.

“A trusted mobile channel complements a sales force and can greatly impact the likelihood that pharmaceutical companies will reach physicians when they are making prescribing decisions,” Crane says. “It is increasingly important for pharmaceutical marketers to take advantage of mobile tools in order to be more engaged in physicians’ workflow at the point of care.”

Mobile apps provide the pharma industry the rare opportunity to directly deliver messages to a specific, targeted audience, says Bill Cui, founder and CEO of SigmaPhone LLC, creator of the iPharmacy app, which provides official medication guidance for more than 20,000 Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved prescriptions or over-the-counter drugs.

“Smartphones greatly improve the accessibility of medical information. This gives users great flexibility to acquire desired knowledge,” Cui says. “Meanwhile, it also allows pharma and health care professionals to better understand the behavior and need of consumers and provide more efficient and effective services and products.”

Empowering Patients

The pharma apps that most incorporate DR principles aim to help patients take better charge of their own health care with consistent, interactive functionality, such as the RxmindMe app, a medication management tool.

“Mobile apps empower the individual more with their health care decisions,” says Harold Smith of RxmindMe. “RxmindMe keeps the entire history of your medications, when you took them and which you skipped — imagine being able to transfer that to your physicians before you even show up for your appointment? Never before have we had that kind of doctor-patient interaction.”

Mobile’s biggest advantage lies in its ability to empower patients and provide crucial health information to anyone, anywhere even beyond the pharma industry — whether at a routine doctor appointment or in an emergency situation, says Neil Desai, product manager for the Gazelle mobile health app, which is produced by Quest Diagnostics, a diagnostic testing company.

“The very nature of your health is mobile — it goes wherever you go and we believe that consumers should have that information with them always,” Desai says. “Mobile apps provide a great way for engagement on a grand scale between consumers and marketers, companies and physicians — really anyone.”

The Gazelle app, which is available on BlackBerry, Android and iPhone devices, lets users securely see, store and share their health information right on their smartphone. In addition, in 33 states and the District of Columbia, Gazelle also allows lab results to be delivered directly to patients, and enables patients to make appointments while on-the-go directly from their mobile device.

“With Gazelle, patients can personally manage and take accountability for their health," says Desai. "We're pleased with the response of patients to Gazelle and their embrace of mobile technology to date. We think the application of mobile technology in health care provides benefits and capabilites that were never before possible.”

Though legal challenges are always a concern when it comes to health marketing, pharma should be able to manage any regulatory guidelines with ease as long as advertisers follow the direct-to-consumer guidelines that have always existed, Mueller advises.

“Rules will always evolve because devices and mobile change all the time. It’s going to be an evolving process,” Mueller says. “What we’re finding is that pharma really wants to get involved in this — they’re sitting in regulatory and legal meetings and they’re being very proactive and positive throughout the process. They’re drivers behind the conversation because they see it as an opportunity for better patient management.”

The pharma industry is just starting to scratch the surface of what mobile can do, and integration of electronic medical records and location-based services could soon be more available to patients.

“Everything that is happening within social media might soon come together at the mobile front,” Iafolla says. “Next generation content like deal locations or augmented reality is going to be more and more incorporated into the mobile space.”

As mobile technology advances, it’s clear that devices’ capability will go above and beyond traditional DR means to better serve marketers and customers alike. In the pharma industry in particular, such technology is poised for great success, as long as companies recognize its unique benefits and challenges.

“When it comes to mobile, it’s important that before pharma marketers start off on a mobile engagement strategy, they think about why and make sure they’re not just chasing the next shiny object that’s out there,” Iafolla says. “There’s a lot of benefits for the patient here and if the pharma industry keeps the patient front and center in their strategies, they’ll be in good shape.” ■

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